“Community” feels the love Thursday night when Jeff and Senor Chang become friends … sorta.
In the Nov. 19 episode, Senor Chang (Ken Jeong, right) begins assigning massive amounts of Spanish homework, and Jeff (Joel McHale, left) is chosen to reason with him. Oddly enough, the two find some common ground, enough to begin hanging out together and for Jeff to enjoy a few perks that his fellow classmates do not.
“My character and Joel’s character actually get to become buddies due to my own back story,” Jeong tells reporters on a conference call. “You really get to see kind of the layers behind it. And Joel’s character is really the only guy to really unravel that and get to me and I’m like now. During that episode we develop a nice little rapport. It’s surreal and sublime and kind of creepy at the same time.”
“Chang has very good reason to be who he is after you see the next episode,” adds McHale.
Who is Senor Chang? Jeong of “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover” fame plays Greendale Community College’s vicious and vociferous Spanish teacher of Asian descent who controls his classroom through volume, intimidation and unpredictable behavior. He’s an angry, tense time bomb of jaded sarcasm that is all too often unleashed upon his students.
“Something has clearly happened to him, you know, on his way in his journey becoming a Spanish instructor,” observes Jeong. “But I also think that there’s a deep insecurity about it and an identity crisis even as an Asian American. There are times that he truly thinks he’s a Latino American. I mean I really – I remember some ad libs I’ve done, even with Joel’s character saying, ‘Oh look it’s the eavesdropping matador,’ in the Halloween episode, and I really have conviction behind those lines when I say, ‘Are you saying my people are sneaky?'”
This is not to say that Jeff is without his own problems either. Besides being disbarred and sent back to school, he was recently seen living out of his car and then forced to bunk with Abed (Danny Pudi).
“[Jeff] is going to run out of money and he will have to get rid of his car and those things,” explains McHale, known for hosting E!’s “The Soup.” “He’s going got have to start doing something to make money and I think it’s going to be hard for him.
“Ultimately my guy is — he came in pretty dang selfish and being in the study group he’s slowly unraveling those or they’re slowly unraveling it out of him and it’s a hard thing for him,” continues McHale. “But slowly he is turning — and when I say slowly I mean glacially slow. So he’s kind of coming to these realizations and Britta (Gillian Jacobs), you know, is the one being his moral compass and for the first time it’s really making him think.”
Speaking of Britta … for a good looking, popular guy, Jeff sure is striking out with Britta a lot and yet, he’s tenacious.
“His first initial reaction was, ‘Hey there’s a really hot chick. And she has like an endless — all the denim jackets that you can find,'” says McHale. “And then at the complete rejection of him he was like, ‘Ah, a challenge.’ Then as he got to know her she was so much more than he expected which was she was a totally grounded cool person and who …does not like him for things that he represents. And I think that irks him a little bit and that’s why he’s gone after her.”
Perhaps this is why Senor Chang (dude, he has to have a first name!) and Jeff get along: They’re both currently unlucky in love.
Below, check out a few additional morsels of McHale/Jeong banter from the rather energetic, comedy routine that was the conference call:
Joel McHale: Who’s Ken Jeong?
Ken Jeong: I’m one of the costars that you don’t make eye contact with on the set.
Joel McHale: Now I remember. Please don’t directly address me on the phone Ken.
Ken Jeong: I’m sorry.
Joel McHale: Now [the reporters are] going to see the on-set tension that we clearly have.
Ken Jeong: Joel McHale is kind enough to give me pages of notes. (To McHale) You literally get on your knees and start doing line readings in an Asian accent. My character doesn’t have an Asian accent.
Joel McHale: Right and see, to you, you can’t, I mean, to you it doesn’t seems like an accent but to everyone else that’s what they’re hearing.
Ken Jeong: Yeah, even on his knees he still looks down on me both literally and figuratively.
Joel McHale: That’s true, much like Ryan Seacrest.
Ken Jeong: Yeah, I’m his Asian Seacrest apparently.
Joel McHale: Yeah.
Ken Jeong: A lot of good notes he does give me. A lot of movement, how to move my body around.
Joel McHale: Look, because when he’s just standing at rest he looks like Gollum and he’s hunched over like Gollum.
Ken Jeong: Yes, you’re not the only person in the cast to give me that note.
Ken Jeong: I think Senior Chang is the only likable character in the cast. I’m kind of shocked, this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. I really thought I’m the good guy and everybody else around me is the bad guy.
Joel McHale: Your character berates people.
Ken Jeong: Really?
Joel McHale: Yes.
Ken Jeong: You know, if you saw the context …
Joel McHale: You’re inappropriately touching most of the women, you know, in your scenes and then with the guys you just insult their weaknesses.
Ken Jeong: No first of all to address the female complaint that was affectionate. And the second of all to address the male complaint I don’t care because I only worry about what the women think.
Ken Jeong: Hi Hanh.
Joel McHale: Hi. Where you from?
Hanh Nguyen: From Zap2it.com.
Ken Jeong: Zap2it.
Joel McHale: Zap2it.
Ken Jeong: Thank you for the love by the way, I think I read a review of yours about “Knocked Up” or something and it was a while back and I appreciated the kind words.
Hanh Nguyen: Oh, you’re very welcome. I know I definitely mentioned you in a few things.
Ken Jeong: I really
Hanh Nguyen: Well, you know, Asians doing it!
Joel McHale: Hey!
Ken Jeong: Joel, this is a private conversation between me and Hanh.
Joel McHale: How dare…
Hanh Nguyen: Between the short people here.
Ken Jeong: Yeah honestly Joel if you don’t mind just…
Joel McHale: All right, me and my 6’4″ self are going to go get a really…
Ken Jeong: Yeah, yeah, you just stick out like a sore thumb.
Hanh Nguyen: I notice that Jeff and Senor Chang are actually probably closer in age than any of other Jeff’s [male friends at school].
Ken Jeong: Yeah, I never thought about that, that’s a good point, yeah.
Joel McHale: In real life I’m 37 and Ken you’re 51?
Ken Jeong: Yeah. I’m 40, I’m 11 years younger than 51 Joel. I had to clarify that to you several times.
Joel McHale: Man you have terrible skin.
Ken Jeong: I know, you know, but again that’s just a by-product of just my culture, you know.
Joel McHale: Oh. You literally forced my comment to be racist. You took my comment and made it racist.
Ken Jeong: See that sleight of hand that Hanh and I did?
Joel McHale: That was incredible.
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